If Orwell could see the world now one can only wonder what he would have to say. The current cell phone monitoring and computer monitoring practices kick his Big Brother all the way to oblivion, take for instance the episode with the FDA which has everyone talking. FDA’s debacle isn’t particularly surprising, considering we’re living in a world where people need to watch themselves on all fronts, your employer could be spying on you, your wife could be doing it, your own parents may have their claws into your private data and when every one of these people are normal rather than tech giants like Google and Apple will step in for their share of your personal data.
January was witness havoc at the FDA when six people, both scientists and doctors (associated with the FDA itself) brought evidence to the media along with the congress confirming that the FDA wasn’t exactly playing nice and slipping in its duties for the greater good. July was witness to evidence that the FDA decided to fight back, not by fixing the lousy performance it was dishing out, but by monitoring its employees. The larger debate now revolves around whether the FDA was within the bounds of the law in monitoring the emails which were sent out to people ranging from journalists to the President himself. No one would’ve even known what the FDA was up to if a worker hadn’t posted documentation online by mistake which proved that employees were being monitored.
How legal FDA’s snooping around was is the million dollar question, considering under whistleblower protection laws any action that the FDA takes could largely only work against them. In addition to that, the privacy of someone’s online inbox is another question since the emails that were being monitored were personal accounts not company accounts. The old “your freedom ends where my nose begins” didn’t occur to the FDA as such, it seems. The prying was officially commissioned by the FDA’s General Counsel, and the official stance is that the FDA was concerned that employees would be leaking sensitive trade secrets relating to some company or the other – which of course is illegal; monitoring someone’s private email address on the other hand is fair game. The FDA further claims that it never hindered any whistleblower from contacting any person of authority with information that they had… it just sat and watched the whistleblowers while they sent out private emails to not just journalists, lawmakers and auditors but also their family, friends and what not.
Computer monitoring or cell phone monitoring isn’t particularly illegal in the context of a work environment if a specific policy has been laid out. Official accounts can be monitored with great ease if the firm wishes to monitor them. On the other hand, monitoring an employee’s personal accounts is never absolutely legal and the FDA will have a tough time explaining just what it was doing going through them. On top of everything else, whistleblower data and information is meant to be kept confidential, by default when the FDA went through these emails it broke that code – it’s irrelevant whether it was going to hinder the whistleblowers or not.